Dakota Datebook

A Dry Brew

Monday, October 16, 2006

The brewing industry was a fairly successful economy in the years prior to North Dakota’s statehood. Beck’s Brewery near Winona had been in business for twenty years before it caught fire and burned down in 1877, and the Turtle Mountain Brewery kept thirst at bay in Rolette County. Bismarck hoped to share in the considerable success of the industry.

Unfortunately for the brewery, it came right before the “dry” spell in North Dakota. The Bismarck brewery was built and in operation by 1885, but closed shortly after, because it was found the Missouri River water was unsuitable for brewing. Regardless, all breweries were shut down when North Dakota entered statehood, and the Bismarck brewery was used merely as grain storage. According to the Sanish Sentinel today in 1918, the Bismarck brewery was sold to a seed company.

North Dakota breweries remained out of business until 1959, when another attempt at a Bismarck brewery was made by Clyde Johnson. After visiting the Great Falls Brewing Company in Montana, Johnson returned to Bismarck with a proposal to build a brewery in North Dakota. North Dakota businessmen accepted the proposal with enthusiasm, especially after a market study revealed that eight million gallons of beer were being shipped into North Dakota annually and sales were growing. The study also revealed that in 1940, North Dakota residents consumed 155,423 barrels of beer and by 1950, that number had jumped to 246,192. Thus preparations for a new brewery were underway and the Dakota Malting and Brewing Company was officially organized as a corporation on December 12, 1959.

The company began brewing in April 1961, and Dakota Beer made its premier appearance on July 1, 1961. The beer was an instant success, but the master brewer, Frank Bauer had tried to take a shortcut that would later affect his brew. By spring of 1961, the company was receiving complaints about the taste of the beer. Furthermore, people became ill and the beer caused diarrhea. Dakota Beer was now in trouble, and the Missouri River was again the cause.

An inspection revealed that the brewery lacked an appropriate filter for the water system. The brewery was pumping 90,000 gallons of Missouri River water a day. The water was oil-tar based, owing to the bad taste and the illnesses. Bauer had thought the phenol in the water could be boiled off, so ignored the requirement for the filter. His mistake damaged his and the company’s reputation and he retired in June 1961. Emmanuel Zarek took over and was able to solve the water problem, but the efforts were too late. The Dakota Malting and Brewing Company now had a tarnished record.

To try and salvage the company, Dakota Brewing signed a contract with the Butte Brewing Corporation of Butte, Montana in 1963. The two lagers produced by Butte were a success in North Dakota. The contract also allowed the Dakota Malting and Brewing Company to sell their products in South Dakota and Montana where their reputation was still good.

Sales began to increase, but it was too late. Their debts were too high and creditors and suppliers filed judgments against the company, and in one case, a judgment was turned over to the sheriff. The sheriff confiscated 3,000 cases of beer and held a public sale to settle the debt. Knowing others would do the same and they would not be able to keep beer on the sales floor, the Dakota Malting and Brewing Company closed its doors on September 30, 1965. Again, all North Dakota’s breweries could produce was a dry brew.

By Tessa Sandstrom

Bird, George F. and Taylor, Edwin J., Jr. History of the City of Bismarck, ND: The First 100 Years, 1872-1972. Bismarck: 1972.
Jeziorski, Dan. “Four short years of brewing in Dakota.” Beer Cans and Brewery Collectibles. Oct/Nov 2001: 4-8.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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